Glossary of Broadband Terms

Broadband Terms Glossary

Even though we may not understand it, broadband Internet is essential to modern life. It allows us to access websites, social media, streaming platforms, and other Internet-based programs quickly and conveniently. But dealing with the technical aspects of broadband is overwhelming and confusing, especially when you don’t know the lingo.

Keep reading to get the lowdown on all of the jargon you need to know when it comes to broadband.

What is Broadband?

It may be obvious, but the most crucial component of understanding broadband is to know the basics of what it is. Simply put, broadband refers to a permanent, high-speed Internet connection. It is a data transmission network with wide bandwidth. Broadband is faster than old dial-up Internet access, called narrowband.

Several technologies deliver broadband Internet to your devices.

These are the essential terms to understand when discussing broadband, so let’s take a closer look at each.

Digital Subscriber Line or DSL

DSL was the first form of broadband, using copper phone lines already available in homes and businesses to transmit data. If you have DSL service, the accessibility and speed depend on the location of your house and its distance from a telephone company. Unlike old dial-up Internet service, DSL does not disrupt your phone line.

There are two types of DSL connections:

  • Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL): Homeowners and casual web surfers are the most frequent users of ADSL. ADSL is faster at downloading than uploading, which means that it can receive tons of data quickly but is not as efficient at sending it out.
  • Symmetrical Digital Subscriber Line (SDSL): SDSL has a much greater uploading capacity than ADSL, making it a popular choice for businesses that need large amounts of bandwidth for video conferencing and other services.

Cable Modem

A cable modem uses the same connections that provide access to cable TV. The modem is a separate piece of equipment that connects both to an outlet and to your computer, enabling transmission of data.


Fiber optic technology uses thin, transparent glass fibers to convert electrical signals to light in order to transmit data. Fiber reaches speeds much faster than either DSL or cable modems.


Wireless Internet connections use a radio link between a customer and a service provider. Frequently found in remote areas, wireless connections are a smarter option where DSL or cable access is too expensive.

To receive a wireless connection, you usually need some form of antenna. A wireless connection enables customers to access the Internet from their mobile devices.


Satellite access is a type of wireless broadband that utilizes satellites orbiting the earth to connect to the Internet. Helpful for serving rural areas, connection speed depends on weather conditions, as well as the service provider and distance to the orbiting satellite.

Broadband over Powerlines (BPL)

BPL is a new technology that uses existing electric power lines to supply broadband. BPL is a convenient option since power lines exist almost everywhere, eliminating the need for the construction of new equipment and facilities.

Basic Terms for Learning About Broadband

When selecting a type of broadband technology, there are several other terms you will encounter and need to understand.


The backbone is a primary transmission line that operates at high speed. It connects smaller high-speed Internet networks around the world.


This is a frequently used term that refers to the ability of a connection to transmit data and signals. It is the maximum amount of data capable of being transmitted in a given amount of time. Researchers measure bandwidth in bits per second (bps).

Dark Fiber

Dark fiber is a fiber optic cable in place, but not yet in use, for broadband services, meaning that it is inactive.


Interconnection allows the exchange of user traffic by linking multiple telecommunications networks.

Internet Service Provider (ISP)

An ISP is a company that provides Internet access to individuals or businesses. Popular examples include EarthLink Internet, AT&T, and Verizon Fios, Frontier FiOS, and COX.

Lit Fiber

This term is the opposite of Dark Fiber and refers to a fiber optic cable that is active and able to transmit data.

Local Area Network (LAN)

An LAN is a group of devices that share a high-speed Internet connection within a limited area, like a building, house, or university campus.

Network Infrastructure

The Network Infrastructure includes all hardware equipment and software components that allow for network connectivity and function.


Routers direct Internet traffic and connect multiple devices to WiFi networks. A router achieves this by transmitting data packets to various computer networks.

Service Area

This term refers to the area in which an ISP provides broadband service.


This much-used term stands for Wireless Fidelity. Basically, WiFi is wireless Internet or a wireless signal. WiFi uses radio transmissions to connect devices to a wireless local area network.

Terms Dealing with Speed

When it comes down to efficient broadband accessibility, the primary concern for most consumers is how fast their Internet connection will be. Here are several terms used to express the speed of a connection.


This term means kilobits per second and is a unit that measures bandwidth. 1 Kbps is equivalent to 1000 bits per second.


An acronym that means megabits per second, Mbps measures bandwidth. 1 Mbps is the same as 1 million bits per second, making it faster than Kbps.


Gbps means gigabits per second and measures bandwidth. It is faster than both Kbps and Mbps at 1 billion bits per second. Kbps, Mbps, and Gbps are the most common terms for measuring bandwidth, though there are units that cover even greater amounts.


A term meaning third-generation wireless technology, 3G networks have speeds of less than 1 Mbps.


A term meaning fourth-generation wireless technology, 4G networks have speeds of more than 1 Mbps.

Other Helpful Terms to Know

Besides the basics of technology and speed, there are a few other concepts that may come in handy when studying broadband and its potential.

Asymmetrical Bandwidth

Asymmetrical bandwidth occurs when the maximum data transfer rate is different for downloading and uploading.


This term refers to the connections between the major backbone network and the smaller, local networks. It describes what portion of the broadband network links to the subnetworks.

Fixed Wireless Broadband Access

This term is the process of connecting two fixed locations with wireless devices. These connections are less expensive than fiber connections because they occur in the air.

Last Mile

The last mile refers to the connection between an individual home or business and a local network.

Middle Mile

The middle mile refers to the process of connecting a local network to the backbone network.

Tier 1 Internet Network

This term refers to a vast ISP network that enables users to access every other network on the Internet, creating a superhighway of connection.

Tier 2 Internet Network

Similar to a Tier 1 Internet Network, Tier 2 consists of smaller Internet providers that allow users to access a portion of the Internet. A Tier 2 Internet Network still purchases IP transit to access the broader Internet.


This term stands for Voice over Internet Protocol, or IP telephony. It is a technology that enables users to send and receive voice and video calls using the Internet instead of a phone line.

Don’t Be Intimidated by Broadband’s Technical Terms

When discussing broadband, every technical term builds on top of another. But don’t let them fool you. Even though they seem confusing at first glance, it’s more than possible to learn and understand them.

Every user interested in updating their Internet service or gaining knowledge about their access options can use this glossary as a guide for a complete comprehension of broadband and its uses.

Blair Campbell

Founder of GetInternet. Blair studied computer science at the California Institute of Technology Computing and Mathematical Sciences program, but he enjoys writing on the side. He grew up in southern California and now lives in Denver, Colorado.